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The murder of Themba Ndimane….. the tale of Zimbabwe’s last executed death row inmate

By Bruce Ndlovu

The last time that patrons at Crossroads Shopping Centre in Silobela in the Midlands saw Themba Ndimane was at 10pm, as he left with a man that he seemed to have struck an instant acquaintance with.

According to those that had been there on the night, the two men had indeed seemed like old acquaintances, behaving like old friends as they downed litre after litre of opaque beer.

According to one imbiber, a man only known as Khumalo in court records, the two would seemingly leave together. One of those two men, Ndimane, would not see the break of a new day.

“The evidence of the State witness, Khumalo, was to the effect that he saw the deceased and the appellant (Masina) leave Crossroads Shopping Centre together at about 10 o’clock in the evening. He observed them walk towards the road to Kwekwe until he lost sight of them,” court records show.

When the man that Ndimane left with, Mandlenkosi “Never” Masina returned, he would do so alone, having seemingly “lost” his friend a few moments earlier.

“A short while later, (Masina) returned alone and collected both his and the deceased’s belongings. The deceased was found dead the following day,” the court’s records say.

When Ndimane was found the next day, he had lost more than his belongings. He had lost his life in the most brutal and tragic of ways.

When his bloodied body was discovered, Ndimane had two stab wounds on the anterior aspect of neck, one wound on the left lower sternal edge — associated left-sided haemopneumothoraxis, one wound on the left lumber region — no associated bowel perforation, one wound on the forehead and one wound at the back lumber region. The coroner’s final conclusion was glaringly clear.

“As a result of the foregoing examination I am of the opinion that the cause of death was (1) Left-sided haemopneumothoraxis secondary to stab wounds of the chest (2) haemorrhage and shock. That being the case, the only remaining issue is the identity of the deceased’s killer.”

The hunt for Ndimane’s killer would be a short and sharp one, with fingers pointing towards the man who had been last seen with him, as they left the Crossroads Shopping Centre, swallowed by the darkness late that evening on the road to Kwekwe.

After intense questioning by the police, Masina would admit to the murder of Ndimane, a man who he had met by chance on that fateful at the shopping centre.

The two had been no strangers, however, as they had met in 1998 while they both served sentences at Kwekwe Prison. That earlier encounter behind bars and the chance meeting at that Kwekwe watering hole would cost Ndimane his life.

“I admit to the charge put against me. On the day in question, I left Zibomvu area where I had visited my mother, Maria Ndlovu, and proceeded to Crossroads in Silobela.

“On arrival I bought opaque beer (two scuds). While I was drinking Themba Ndimane, whom I had met at Kwekwe Prison in 1998, arrived. We drank together and a lot of people who(m) I did not know arrived. They bought beer and we ended (up) drinking together. The deceased was one of these people,” his confessional statement to the police.

As the alcohol flowed, the hours ticked and as the hour hand moved closer to midnight, Ndimane realised that he would not be able to find a place to rest for that night. It was then that he made a fatal mistake as he, believing that Masina was a Good Samaritan, asked the man who he had once served with in prison to give him sanctuary.

“We drank beer until the beerhall was closed and all other people whom we were drinking with went away. I remained behind with the deceased. The deceased requested me to take him to the place where I was staying because it was late and he had no place to put up. I agreed and we left together,” Masina said.

Moments later, Ndimane was to lose his life near a borehole, stabbed four times by the man who had earlier on promised him a bed.

“We were near a borehole. I decided to rob him. Therefore I drew my Okapi knife and stabbed him four times on the left side of his body. When he had fallen down, I searched him and took cash $300-00, removed his pair of shoes and further took his travelling bag which was containing groceries and a plough share and I took the property to my mother’s homestead in Zibomvu area. I left all this property at my mother’s homestead with the exception of the cash which I spent,” he said.

Ndimane was later convicted and sentenced to death but that was not to be the end of the matter. After the conviction he appealed, claiming that he had confessed to the police while under duress.

When Chief Justices Chidyausiku, Malaba and Gwaunza heard his case in Bulawayo on 6 October 2002, they decided that his appeal had no merit.

“There was a feeble attempt by the appellant to challenge both the admissibility and genuineness of the confession. The court a quo dismissed the challenge for a number of reasons. The appellant was unable to prove how he was coerced. The statement contained a wealth of detail that could only have come from a person involved in the killing of the deceased.”

Masina would meet his end at the end of a hangman’s noose on 22 July, 2005, infamously becoming the last life that the country’s executioner took before he retired the following year.

Last week, the country’s Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi reportedly told a Non Governmental Organisation, Veritas Zimbabwe, that he was opposed to the death penalty as it is against the country’s culture. President Mnangagwa has also spoken against the death penalty. About 101 inmates currently on death row wait with baited breath to see if this indeed becomes a reality.

Almost 14 years since he breathed his last at the gallows, Mandlenkosi “Never” Masina might live forever in infamy as the last man to have ever been executed in Zimbabwe. Sunday News